#TasmanianLitMonth – The Flanagan Brothers

Arguably the most famous Australian export, Tasmanian native Richard Flanagan has set the literary world on fire with his often bruising, yet always lyrical and evocative novels. Almost every book he has written has been both a best seller and literary award winner.

Many of his novels fall under the genre of Tasmanian Gothic, centering around either the convict experience, such as “Gould’s Book of Fish” or the struggle against the harsh conditions of workers entrenched deep in the Tasmanian bush such as in his debut novel “Death of a River Guide” and “The Sound of One Hand Clapping.”

Flanagan explores Australian history and the bruises left on our collective psyche differently in his novel, “The Narrow Road to the Deep North.” Set alternatively in the fetid jungles of Southeast Asia and various Australian towns and cities across multiple time periods, Flanagan’s seminal masterpiece won him a Man Booker prize in 2014.

My family and I met Richard when he visited Beijing many years ago as part of Australian Writer’s Week. He spoke animatedly about his writing life, and what it means to be Tasmanian. After meeting Richard, I knew I had to read more of his books. I was trepidatious but felt it was my duty as a fellow Tasmanian. Despite being a librarian, I often feel overwhelmed by ‘literature’, so picking up ‘Narrow Road…’ felt intimidating. Was I going to ‘get it’?

I absolutely loved it. I felt both wrapped and rapt in his words, transported to the outward hell of a POW camp and the inward hell of anguished love. Absolutely worth the emotional and mental effort it required of me.

An in-depth interview about “Narrow Road to the Deep North” with Richard at the Wheeler’s Centre in Melbourne.

The fictitious criminal underbelly is another area in which Flanagan dallies, with his novels “First Person” and “The Unknown Terrorist.”

Flanagan doesn’t shy away from the important issues facing everyday Tasmanians. In his latest book, Richard takes on Big Business.

Richard Flanagan’s exposé of the salmon farming industry in Tasmania in his book, Toxic: The Rotting Underbelly of the Tasmanian Salmon Industry, is chilling. In the way that Rachel Carson took on the pesticide industry in her ground-breaking book Silent Spring, Flanagan tears open an industry that is as secretive as its practices are destructive and its product disturbing.

From the burning forests of the Amazon to the petrochemicals you aren’t told about to the endangered species being pushed to extinction you don’t know about; from synthetically pink-dyed flesh to seal bombs . . . If you care about what you eat, if you care about the environment, this is a book you need to read.

Quote from Richard’s author page on Penguin Random House

Images taken from Penguin RandomHouse

Richard is not the only successful author in the Flanagan family. His brother, Martin, has published 16 books and is seen by many as the eminent voice in Australian Rules Football (AFL) journalism.

Photo courtesy of The Mercury

Martin’s sports memoir, “A Wink From the Universe,” tells the story of AFL’s perpetual underdogs, the Western Bulldogs. A footy team from the hard working, blue collar Melbourne suburb of Footscray, the Sons of the West are my beloved football team. Watch Flanagan’s interview about his book, published on the team’s website.

A staunch supporter of the AFL in Tasmania, Martin writes with conviction, expertise and passion. His recent piece for The Age about football culture dying in Tasmania is a sad indictment on mainlanders taking Tasmanians for granted – again. Some might say, ‘as usual.’

Martin also writes political pieces, often scathing, of relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. His Footyology article on the Uluru Statement from the Heart reduced me to tears as I saw so much of myself in it, and felt ashamed. I grew up knowing so little about Tasmanian Indigenous culture and history, never even realising I shared a classroom with First Nations kids. Clearly acknowledging and understanding Indigenous issues and our shared past has never been more important.

Further reading about Martin and his extensive body of work can be found on the Only Tasmania website.

About guest curator, Bec Taylor

I’m Bec Taylor, the EY3 – Grade 2 cybrarian* at the International School of Beijing, China. I’m a global nomad with Australian roots and a Chinese family home – all my immediate family have lived and worked in Beijing as international school teachers for many, many years.  

Overly enthusiastic about everything especially children’s literature, Australian Rules Football (go Doggies!) and food, glorious food, I am easily bribed with coffee and dark chocolate. I am a passionate advocate of social justice, female financial literacy, and finding ways to tread more lightly on the planet. Alongside the demands of a busy family and professional life, I enjoy cultivating community through volunteer work that focuses on healthy families.

I am the current Chair of the Chinese international schools reading promotion, the Panda Book Awards. Titles chosen for the shortlists of the Panda Book Awards meet selection criteria that focus on social justice, diversity and inclusion by up and coming authors and illustrators from across the world. There is an added spotlight on titles that feature Asian settings, characters or creators. 

The educational hills I will die on are:

  • a child’s right to choose what they love to read,
  • there is serious magic in reading aloud,
  • and the belief that schools are happier, more equitable places with better academic outcomes when the properly funded school library is well staffed with qualified, collaborative and passionate professionals.

*a fancy name that formalises and acknowledges the incredible work teacher librarians do each day to find authentic ways to integrate and explore educational technology in order to capture, expand, and enhance student learning.

I would like to pay my respects to the traditional custodians of the land, the Palawa people of Tasmania, and to their Elders, past, present, and emerging. I acknowledge their deep spiritual connection to the land and their ongoing contributions to the culture of this nation.  

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